Settlement for death following avoidable hospital fall

Case studies

Settlement for death following avoidable hospital fall

This case involved a claim against The Royal Surrey County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust for a client whose husband died following a fall in hospital.

Our client lived at home with her husband who was 78 years old at the time. He had various health problems including heart disease, renal impairment, confusion and postural hypertension. He had a known risk of feeling dizzy and possibly fainting when standing.

After suffering a fall at home, he was admitted to hospital with suspected back and rib injuries. Despite it being noted on admission that he had fallen 5-6 times in the last month and that he suffered dizziness, no Falls Risk Assessment was completed (which is mandatory in such circumstances). During his admission he displayed increasing confusion and difficulty mobilising without the assistance of at least one person using a walking Zimmer frame. Despite this, he was placed in a closed side room out of view of the nurses, despite the fact that he was too confused to know to use the patient call bell if he required assistance.

Our client’s husband fell twice while he was an in-patient, the second of which proved to have fatal consequences. He had attempted to get up unaided from his bedside chair and used a mobile blood pressure machine that had been left next to him to support himself which is believed to have rolled and tipped up as he tried to support himself on it. He was found on the floor with the blood pressure monitor lying on top of him.

As a result of the fall our client’s husband suffered massive crush fractures to his chest and ribs, resulting in a massive pneumothorax. He was in incredible pain and developed pneumonia. He deteriorated rapidly and died in intensive care within two days. A post mortem report and inquest concluded that the injuries were causative of the death.

The defendant trust repeatedly failed to adequately carry out falls risk assessments. Had they done so then the high risk of the patient falling would have been identified and steps could have been taken to manage that risk by positioning, safeguards, monitoring and assistance and his falls would have been prevented. Settlement was reached after the defendant admitted liability and accepted an offer to settle by our client. The Trust has also offered an apology for what happened.

Lucie Prothero, who specialises in hospital falls cases within the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, comments: “We are seeing a significant increase in the number of claims and enquiries relating to falls amongst the elderly, involving hospital care but also community-based care. In many instances, the consequences of these falls are tragic – resulting in disabling fractures, brain injury and sadly, as in this case, death. There is much publicity at present about the ageing UK population and the devastating consequences that elderly falls have. This case highlights the importance of ensuring that older patients are properly considered for their risk of falls – often, simple and early risk assessments and safeguards are all it takes to prevent falls and avoid the devastating loss that our client suffered.”

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